“It is easy — terribly easy — to shake a man’s faith in himself.To take advantage of that, to break a man’s spirit is devil’s work.”
— George Bernard Shaw
What can I say? I am certainly not thrilled to pull this card today, and was sorely tempted to draw again. I can make peace with it by saying that yes, it represents the time of Capricorn, which just began, making the timing nearly exact. And it just so happens that our local Tarot Meetup just worked with this card in our ongoing monthly discussions of each of the Tarot Trumps. There is a fun post here that examines the ties between the Devil and Santa Claus (who some extreme anti-Christmas Christians even call, “Satan’s Claws.”)
But, frankly, I find it disheartening to see the fearsome energy of this card in contrast to what we would all wish this week to be about: innocence, peace on earth, and tidings of comfort and joy. Is this about overindulgence at the holiday table? Family histrionics? Sliding back into destructive food, sex, drug or alcohol abuse patterns?
Oh dear. Three Majors in a row – something big is clearly going on. But to have to discuss The Devil in the week that celebrates what is gentlest and kindest in the Christian faith just makes me sad. Even though, as a Witch and a Pagan, he has nothing to do with me. Or does he?
Since he has come up so often lately, instead of once again re-hashing the meanings of this card, I decided to do a little exploring, to discover more about the connection between Satan and the Horned God of the Craft and Paganism. If you want to go back and re-read more direct interpretations, you can go here and here.
The image of Satan as a horned, hoofed, goat-headed monster is common throughout depictions of Witches Sabbats that date from the Burning Times. In modern Wicca and Paganism, the story goes that Satan was a product of the Church’s attempt to twist and make fearful an older, benign, pan-European horned God, who was the consort/child of the Great Goddess. As such, the Goddess and Horned God (the “Lady” and “Lord”) of Wicca are supposedly ancient tribal Gods of this faith.
However, while very appealing, and possibly exposing a deeper truth, there is little historic evidence to support these interpretations. Gerald Gardner, considered by some the father of modern Wicca, himself admitted that he had reconstructed his Craft rites from fragments, incorporating English folklore as described by the now-discredited historian, Margaret Murray.
In fact, many of the early leaders in pre-feminist modern Wicca, including Gardner, Charles G. Leland, and Sir James Frazer, were influenced by the book La Sorciere, written by 19th-century French historian Jules Michelet. While there are many portions of this work that today’s Pagans and Witches would recognize, it is also true that Michelet includes lengthy passages with “passionate, sympathetic depictions of Satan.” (Satanism and the History of Wicca, © 1992, 1994, 1996 by Diane Vera).
Of course, Gardner also drew heavily from other contemporary influences, such as the magical traditions of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose members, Arthur E. Waite and artist Pamela Colman Smith, created this very card.
So who is The Devil? Who is the Beast who enslaves us, who breaks our will to the point that, like in this card, we might escape if we were not so mesmerized by our fears that we’ve surrendered our very power to change? What do we believe about intentional evil at work in the world?
This week, it appears we have an opportunity to answer some of these questions, to break the spell of our destructive habits: apathy, hopelessness, self-inflicted pain. I believe that we can regain whatever hope and goodness we have allowed to be stolen away.
May this card be a wake-up call that offers a new beginning to all.